Posts Tagged ‘plein air’

Sarah Carlson: Perennial Threshold

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Over March Break, we and our partners at Algonquin Provincial Park were fortunate enough to host Sarah Carlson for the Perennial Threshold spring residency. She sent us her description of her time in the park, along with a few pictures of her experience.
Enjoy! 

The wilderness has always brought me great clarity and perspective. Along with a heightened awareness of my surroundings comes increased understanding both of myself as a maker and as a strand in the web of life. Hiking, paddling and climbing are frequent jumping-off points for the conceptual development of my work. Since the diversity of the landscape propels my investigation into human-environment exchanges, I immediately seized the opportunity of being the Perennial Threshold artist in residence at Algonquin Provincial Park.

Going into the Algonquin Art Centre residency, my plan was to cultivate a connection to place and to work on large-scale paintings in preparation for my April solo exhibition in Toronto entitled ReWILDING. This exhibition positions the Canadian Landscape as a site for questioning and (re)imagining relationships between humans and the natural world.

The beautiful yet unpredictable spring weather meant for multiple types of footwear, from snowshoes to traction aids to rain boots.  Hikes and plein air sketches were followed by hours in the studio/cabin translating my experiences onto canvas. I was listening and learning from the trickling creeks, rustling conifers and forest critters. It’s hard not to have multiple “Snow White” moments with birds landing on you and squirrels climbing on you while you’re taking a photograph or painting. I also had the privilege of learning from park naturalists and biologists. These conversations and experiences continue to resonate with me and I am excited for the new directions this residency has inspired!

It was amazing to watch Sarah at work. Her time was so productive she was able to finish some large-scale pieces, which are now on display as part of the ReWilding exhibit at Toronto’s Graven Feather gallery. For a special treat, we were fortunate enough to attend the opening last Friday!

If you’re in the Toronto area before May 1st and cruising around Queen West, we definitely recommend stopping in for the exhibit. These huge canvasses are striking in person, and you get pulled into her otherworldly colours the same way you’re coaxed into the landscape when you’re out in the wild.  Find all the information at Graven Feather’s website!
In the meantime, this was such a successful partnership between Algonquin, Sarah, and the Art Centre that we’re getting more and more excited for our next round of residencies. We can’t wait to get our next one under way, so stay posted!

Off-Season Artists: Jan Wheeler

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Just in time for the springy weather, we’ve got another Off-Season Artist! In this series Alex, who spends his time pacing the vaulted halls of the internet, head reverently bowed as his footsteps echo into digital eternity, interviews one of our artists to learn about their process and personality.
This week, it’s landscape painter Jan Wheeler! 

So let’s get right into it. Your style is very difficult to pin down. Your landscapes are both very naturalistic but also otherworldly. There’s a monumentally static quality to your rocks and hills, but they all flow together in swirls and motion. How do you reconcile these seemingly competing elements so effectively?
Each piece sets out to share the rhythms and forces I’ve observed. There’s always an underlying rhythm, perhaps the strong winds of a storm, or a gently rippling breeze.
It’s that underlying rhythm that shapes the piece. Whether sky, water, rocks or hills, the wind flows over and sculpts all. Light and shadows from the skies flow over rocks and hills with the same force and rhythm. I work with all the elements together to create the choreography of the composition. The fluid lines and curving form draw the viewer’s eye smoothly through the piece so they too can feel the wind at play.

“Montreal River Harbour”

Who would you say were your influences in developing this style? It’s quite unlike a lot of other landscape painting out there.
A major influence for me was a contrary one: Cezanne. By that, I mean that while he explored planes of light and form in a landscape, I was aware of a curving form. I knew I had to diverge from his work to find a way to interpret what I was “seeing”.  The artist I consider the key influence would be Henry Moore, whose tumbling, flowing forms enabled me to see how I could develop the flowing movement I was trying to capture.

Paul Cezanne, “La Mont Sainte-Victoire” and Henry Moore, “Reclining Figure”

Wow. Now that you mention it, I can really see that. I understand you also have a great deal of different regional influences. You’ve travelled quite a bit throughout the world—Japan, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Italy—and clearly you’ve used your diverse experiences to hone your style. What overseas experience would you say was the most valuable for making your art what it is today?
I would have to say that my time in London, UK was most valuable. I was able to study the works of many great artists and explore my own interpretation of landscape against that inspirational backdrop.
I played with the curving light and form of London’s plain trees and the rolling hills of the South Downs. During this time of development I worked in an office across from the Tate Gallery, with a Henry Moore sculpture in its front courtyard. His fluid, smooth forms draw the eye through and around the three-dimensional forms almost without awareness.  Seeing his work in situ sent my mind racing through the possibilities of my own developing style by further exploring the fluid movement and rhythms of a landscape.

“Wind Sculpted Skies”

In spite of all that travel, more than any other subject the interaction between big Canadian waters and their skies seems to captivate your attention. I’m thinking of “Wind Sculpted Skies” in particular, one of your most ominous paintings and one of my favourites. What draws you to those subjects?
I’m drawn to the movement in landscape and want to capture a scene, not in its stillness, but in its living. Water and skies are rich with rhythm and simply captivating when observing. They’re a challenge for me with complex dramatic shifts that require complex choreography within the composition.
“Wind Sculpted Skies” is a scene from the shores of Lake Superior. The painting describes a long, age-worn rocky peninsula weathering once again the force of an expansive storm front. Strong winds drive and sculpt the sky, providing a rich choreography for me to work with.

There’s no place quite like Lake Superior, is there? On that note, you’ve done quite a bit of backpacking and canoeing. What’s your favourite natural space to get into in Canada, and why?
The north shore of Lake Superior never fails to inspire and challenge me. I’m captivated by the geologic forces in constant battle there, and on a scale that can be very hard to bring down to even a large canvas. Its geologic age gives it an underlying weight that resonates in the rhythms I observe.
For an artist who loves to work with stormy skies and turbulent water, the great lake provides me with a rich range of awe-inspiring moments.

“Break in the Storm”

Speaking of getting out and working on pieces in the open air, one of the notable things about your paintings is their sheer size and ambition. When you’re in the presence of one, boy does it take over! What’s the process of going from mobile sketch to huge canvas like for you?
It’s great to hear that the paintings are connecting with you.
While on location I sketch, take photos and if I have colour with me, I’ll do a colour study for later reference. The scale and complexity of the scene usually dictates the scale of the final piece. The larger the scale of the scene and the more complex the underlying rhythms, the larger the final painting needs to be.
A final drawing precedes the painting, where I work out the rhythm in the landscape in a finished composition. This is important in order to have a consistent flow for the eye to follow; to draw the viewer into the underlying dance of the scene.
On canvas, I can develop the flowing scene more as the brush moves and blends the colour throughout the piece. The largest piece I’ve completed is a 48”x60”, which, if you know me, is as big as I am and that brings its own challenges.  The extra work is worth it though as a larger canvas lets me develop and express more dramatic and complex scenes.

And last but not least, just for fun: what’s something we might not know about you?
Well, over the years I’ve had encounters with a lot of wildlife: a bobcat, fisher, weasels, elk, bears and many more. But probably the most memorable was when I was kissed by a camel in the Saudi desert.
I was with my husband and a group of friends, heading across flat sands to the Red Sea for some snorkelling when we came across a female camel and her two youngsters.
We stopped some distance away and watched quietly, taking pictures. The curious young camels playfully approached, soon followed by the mother. Everyone in my group backed up out of range, worried about an attack by the mother.  I could see the mother wasn’t stressed and felt it best if I just stood quietly, making no moves.
The kids stopped before they reached me and looked on with curiosity but kept their distance. It was the mother who stepped up to me. She slowly, gently sniffed my face, my hair and then gently rubbed a cheek. She looked at me carefully one more time and then her incredibly long tongue washed my face in a big kiss. Astonished, yet careful not to move, I spoke to her quietly, thanking her, and watched as she and her kids went on their way.

“Shimmering Lumsden Lake”

That’s it for Jan Wheeler! She’s a delight and we can’t get enough of her art…
Check in soon for our next Off-Season Artists post!


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